Keeping kids safe from the seasonal and H1N1 flu strains has
been on parents' minds for months. But with the hectic holiday
schedule upon us-complete with germ-spreading activities like
parties, shopping and travel-routine handwashing may have slipped
our minds a bit.
Good thing Dec. 6 begins National Handwashing Awareness week.
Though it almost sounds too simple to be effective, washing hands
regularly really does prevent people from getting sick.
That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
recommends handwashing as the most important way to prevent the
flu. If soap and water aren't available, the CDC recommends using
an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Several recent studies have confirmed handwashing's
effectiveness, including one conducted in Australia and published
in the Clinical Infectious Diseases Journal.
The hands of 20 (vaccinated) volunteers were coated with the
H1N1 flu virus. When the volunteers did not wash their hands, the
virus remained on their hands even after an hour. But when they
washed their hands, the virus was essentially eliminated. Hand
sanitizer did work, but the study found soap and water to be the
most effective option.
But what makes handwashing even more effective is refraining
from touching your eyes, nose and mouth. To prove it, scientists
from the University of California, Berkeley, watched college
students who were reading or using their computers, according to a
New York Times article.
The researchers documented every time the students touched their
eyes, nose or mouth-the mucous membranes there are the easiest
entry points for germs. After three hours of observation, the
students touched their faces an average of 47 times, or about once
every four minutes. Now, imagine how many times preschoolers'
fingers are in their noses or mouths.
To help younger children remember handwashing tips, a physician
in Ohio designed an educational program called Henry the Hand. You
can print his posters here.
Using a giant smiling yellow hand, catchy songs and bright
posters, Dr. William Sawyer hopes to remind kids to wash hands
before eating, to never cough or sneeze into your hand (use the
crook of your elbow instead) and to never touch the "T-zone" of
your face (otherwise known as the eyes, nose and mouth)
Lisa Applegate is a freelance writer and mom of one living in Chicago.
See more of Lisa's stories here.
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